Would waterboarding American military personnell by a hostile nation, oh say just as a mere hypothetical example, Iran, be torture. Guantanamo, legal adviser, Brigadier General Thomas W. Hartmann, couldn’t say. In testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Lindsay Graham pressed General Hartmann on his refusal to say whether waterboarding is torture.
GRAHAM: You mean you’re not
equipped to give a legal opinion as to whether or not Iranian military
waterboarding, secret security agents waterboarding downed airmen is a
violation of the Geneva Convention?
HARTMANN: I am not prepared to
answer that question, Senator.
Watch the entire video.
Senator Graham painstakingly unearthed the logic of the administration’s position on waterboarding. Though never revealing whether the United States uses this method of torture, the administration has never denied it nor have they ever affirmed, what every sane person knows, that waterboarding is torture. Besides a concern with the morality of waterboarding, something the administration seems too tone deaf to even hear, we undercut our credibility in protesting to the international community when enemies of the United States use waterboarding against military personnel or CIA agents.
Of course, this controversy over whether waterboarding is torture does not address the underlying question, the administration is afraid to ask or answer, namely, is torture always wrong in every possible scenario? ECA has examined this question especially here and here. Essentially, the answer depends upon the relationship between short-term moral exigencies and long-term moral imperatives. There are plausible arguments on both sides of this debate. But rest assured neither the administration nor Congress will ever examine these issues seriously. Deliberative debate, even about the most pressing and troubling issues, especially about such issues seems to be an activity American constitutional structures, the rules of Congress, the media and most public intellectuals are unable to engage.